Wednesday 10:00am: It’s sunny outside and my partner and I are standing on the front porch. I tell him I really want this job, I feel good about it.
Wednesday 1:00pm: An hour has passed since my interview and I get a text from the principal offering me the job for Affective Needs Paraprofessional.
Rewind. Friday 9:00am: While looking at job postings in Denver Public Schools I google Affective Needs classrooms. One source states “self-contained classrooms for students with emotional disabilities that provide a strong emphasis on affective education, academics, and social skills programming”
Thursday, 4 Days Before the 1st Day of School, 2:00pm: I’m at a de-escalation and restraint training and I’m told if the child is below my belly button I stand behind him (him because it will likely be a him) and cross his arms before holding his hands to restrict his movement. I’m told if the child is taller than my belly button I will call for a team mate and we will approach the child on either side. With one hand we will hold his wrist, with the other we will press on his shoulder. We will do this until he calms down.
Day 5 2:00pm: The boys are not calm. Neither is the one girl. The man who taught me de-escalation is administering a restraint. The boy is 11 and the man is 5 x 11 but the boy doesn’t know that because instead of learning math he is being pressed against a chair and he’s hoping no one sees the pools in his eyes.
Day 5 2:20pm: I sit next to the school psychologist who I met 10 days ago. On the concrete step she sees the pools spill from my eyes and I tell her I didn’t realize this was what I had signed up for.
Day 5 6:20pm: My partner says I have a tendency to quit and I’m mad because there’s some truth to what he’s saying. I’m mad because there’s no way I’m quitting now.
Day 9: XP exits the class he was supposed to be contained in and busts into the class that contains the girl who can’t contain her silly faces and I push XP from the room to protect KA. XP is only 8 but he’s fueled with rage and I don’t blame him.
Day 12: It’s Saturday and all I can think is tomorrow is Sunday, and Sunday is the day before Monday.
Day 14: It’s Monday and the boys charge into the school spewing cuss words and the principal says we should look into having them enter through separate doors.
Edit: Day 14: It’s Monday and four students walk into school reciting words they picked up from peers and parents; the principal says we should look into having them enter through separate doors.
Day 21: The boys enter through separate doors.
Edit: Day 21: The boys are segregated further.
Day 24: The class contains one child and myself. We sit in the center of the room while he writes extra sentences to earn extra points to earn extra snacks. He’s on a roll when he realizes he can copy the first two words of each sentence to make a list of all the things he likes. He writes “I like” ten times on ten lines then fills in the blanks.
Day 31: Outside the classroom I catch my breath while two district officials brace each of the doors closed. Through the window of one door I see two hands pressed against the glass. In between them a face gazes out of the container. Eyes like wells.
Day 48: Inside the classroom I feel hot while two district officials peer through the window of a closed door. Eyes like mirrors to their pre-conceived notions.
Day 52: KB’s heart pounds under my palm.
Day 53: I call the custodian to replace another broken table.
Day 67: KA and I take turns reading Shel Silverstein poems.
Day 78: KA is backed into a corner. A bare room with nowhere to turn except the door I’m standing in front of. The police officer next to me tells me we’re enabling her; it’s visible in the way she turns on me and not him. She bites me and I turn away. Someone else takes a turn in front of the door.
Day 130: There’s a scene in the documentary 13th in which two prison guards walk on either side of an inmate, each holding an arm, as they escort him down a hallway. Flashback. I tell my partner that’s what we do at school. Some kids take the pipeline from school to prison. Some kids are already there.
Day 134: BP is new to the school, but not to being self contained. At his last school an aide drew a circle on the playground and told him he had to stay in it. He didn’t. At our school he says the red paint on the floor is blood.
Day 142: The Lost Fidget Spinner. An audio saga as told by BP, XP, GB, CW, KB, and MB. Duration: 5 hours and 38 minutes. No intermission. Rated R for language and violence.
Day 150: We all gather round a table and mix borax, glue, water and food coloring to make slime.
Day 180: It’s sunny outside and it’s our last day of school. We have a water fight between the students and teachers. No broken tables or pools of tears, just broken balloons and pools of water. We all laugh, and it feels good to laugh.
Saturday. It’s been 400 days since I was laughing with those kids and in those days I’ve laughed about the time XP lay on the ground as he yelled up at me “I’m gonna fucking kill you Ms. Johnson” and I’ve laughed about the time JH gave me the nickname Sabertooth because I have big teeth, and I’ve laughed about the text their teacher sent me telling me that MB said he “missed my English ass.” But laughter is just a remedy for a system that is sick. It’s our schools that are disabled not the kids they label, and while teachers count down the days til summer, the kids are counting on a system that teaches affective needs, but needs to be more effective.